Dr. AQ Khan Network: Review of a German Documentary

Documentary on how AQ network helped Iran
By Khalid Hasan: August 21, 2007

WASHINGTON: A German TV documentary on Dr AQ Khan titled The Mullahs’ Phsyicist claims that in the mid-1980s, Iran’s leadership decided to acquire uranium enrichment technology. By that time, Pakistan had already mastered the process, and despite the unstable relationship between the two countries, officials from the two states held clandestine talks on nuclear cooperation.

By 1984, according to a review of the documentary by Tom Bielefeld and Hassan Abbas published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Dr Khan’s Kahuta facility had produced enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. In parallel to the official talks between Iran and Pakistan, members of the Khan network started their own business with Iran. From 1985, Heinz Mebus, a German engineer and former colleague of Dr Khan at Urenco, negotiated with Iranian officials, apparently on Dr Khan’s behalf that the material in their possession - blueprints of machines and facilities, and the industry contacts necessary for acquiring functioning equipment - constituted a valuable package, and they were willing to sell it. The film identifies Masud Naraghi as the Iranian individual in charge of these negotiations. Olli Heinonen, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general and responsible for the agency’s investigation into Dr Khan’s activities, confirms Naraghi’s role describing him as the “project leader” for Iran’s enrichment programme in an interview for the film. The deal between the two sides was closed in 1987 at a hotel suite in Dubai, in the presence of both Mebus and Naraghi, according to the film. The Iranians got reliable “specifications and drawings, and manufacturing instructions for the equipment” from the network. They also received a list of companies that could manufacture the parts. According to the film, the Iranians paid $8 million for the package.

With the material the Khan network provided, the Iranians made little progress with their enrichment programme. Naraghi led the Iranian project to an impasse and lost his responsibilities in 1992. Later that year, he walked into the US Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, and was flown to the United States with his family. The Americans did not share the information they gathered from Naraghi with the IAEA nor did they act more decisively to deal with the emerging situation.

Instead, the United States focused the Russians and Chinese to cease their nuclear cooperation with Iran. China is said to have secretly sold uranium ore to Iran in 1991, and it began constructing a conversion plant in Isfahan. It also planned to deliver a reactor to Iran. Here, too, US pressure finally led China to discontinue support for Iran’s nuclear activities. The Iranians went back to the Khan network in 1993 to begin procuring components for about 500 centrifuges of the older P-1 type, as well as designs for the more advanced model P-2 centrifuge. These shipments then gave a boost to Iran’s clandestine enrichment programme. The film’s conclusion is that the lack of US cooperation with the IAEA in 1993 was key to Iran’s ultimate successes, but this finding requires further study.

For complete text of the article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, click here


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